Digital Reading (from LA)

Having spent a significant chunk of time during my trip to LA last week in classrooms (and another large chunk in traffic), was able to talk informally with many students about their experiences as readers and as digital readers. While I conducted no formal interviews with students, there were a number of themes that emerged with these teens that are similar to the themes I am discovering in official interviews that I am doing for our book project on digital reading. Here are a few reflections on what I discovered.

Comfort

Image from Flickr.  Some rights reserved by bm.iphone.
Image from Flickr. Some rights reserved by bm.iphone.

First, I want to start with some limitations of the technologies for digital reading. Many of the students that I talked to discussed the fact that iPads are difficult screens to read from. The glass surface is too reflective and the glare is distracting. While some e-reader screens are better (one student mentioned her Kindle specifically), they find it difficult to read long passages of text on screen. Many of them described how they would print — and would prefer it if their teachers would print — their reading homework.

It is also about familiarity (simply holding a book is a nice feeling) and a sense of accomplishment as one flips through the pages toward the end of a section or chapter. Annotating is doable, but sometimes awkward with ebooks. One student said that she felt no sense of accomplishment with ebooks and, while she can get distracted with real books too, she would often feel as if words, sentences, and pages simply melded together.

So, there is something (or a few somethings) to be said for comfort.

Reading Choices

Of a more positive note, a second point that emerged is the fact that many teens did report (at least through knowing nods and smiles) that they did read online, though I am sure that the amount and quality of reading varies widely (as it does for adults, too, I am sure). Still, they reported some interested digital reading practices, most notably the idea that the way they find interesting things to read include tools like Tumblr, Stumble Upon, and Flipboard. In other words, they don’t often start with search as the default for finding things to read online.

Again, this was not a result discussed by all the students (a few still headed to Google or Yahoo first), but it did suggest that students are engaged in self-sponsored reading and, more importantly, figuring out a variety of ways to encounter new texts. Though they might still limit their choices based on the app, their social network, and their own preferences, I am curious to know more about how teens perceive these tools.

When teaching a group of seniors about Feedly, one young man made a comment to the effect that finding personalized content from across the web would actually make him want to read more. We talked about how to search within Feedly, as well as how to set up Google Alerts and use Tehnorati to find blogs. By the end of the class period, some students had a small, yet robust, list of multiple sources to read about their favorite topics.

New Norms

A third point that I want to mention could be broadly conceived of as the social norms of digital reading. In particular, one young woman described how — even when she is reading and annotating something for school purposes — her parents complain that she is just messing around with her iPad. Not sure what to make of this piece of information yet in the grand scheme of our study, but I know that this is a recurring theme and I am sure it will come up again.

E-reading Strategies

Finally, a few students and one teacher also mentioned a particular ebook reading strategy: search. Since ebooks lack page numbers, and people can change the font size for readability anyway, teachers can’t call out a page number anymore and expect that students will show up there. Thus, searching becomes essential. One teacher described how he would have students search for quotes, and I can imagine that would become a useful strategy in the context of teaching students how to find and cite textual evidence.

As we continue to gather survey results, am sure that some more surprises and trends will emerge. I look forward to discovering them.


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“Tech Goes Home” Goes National

Tech Goes Home LogoYesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with Deb Socia, executive director of Tech Goes Home, a non-profit based Boston that has recently launched a national portal with resources for parents, teachers, and community members interested in connecting families with technology. (Quick disclaimer: I was contacted by Intel with an initial press release, but followed up with Deb in an interview.) Here is part of the press release shared by Intel:

Founded in 2000, Tech Goes Home has trained more than 10,000 residents in Boston since 2010 alone, with more than 4,000 individuals now participating in the program each year. Through its impactful and cost-effective model to help families gain access to the skills and tools needed for 21st century success, Tech Goes Home has been committed to tackling the entrenched barriers to technology adoption and Internet access in Boston, and it will now spread this work across the country.

“The success of Tech Goes Home is the result of the amazing partnerships we have with Mayor Menino’s office and our Boston partners,” said Deb Socia, executive director of Tech Goes Home. “Thanks to the support of Intel, Tech Goes Home can now improve the lives of unconnected people across the country.”

The Tech Goes Home national program will virtualize materials so parents, students and teachers can take advantage of technology and learning no matter where they are. The program offers free resources categorized by work, school, finance, personal wellness, and cultural and recreational opportunities that help people make the most of their increased access to technology. The nonprofit also offers training toolkits to support formal and informal education settings, as well as virtual training groups where trainers can upload their own recommended resources.

More importantly, Deb and I had a chance to talk about many issues related to education, including her career as a teacher and principal, her efforts to bring a 1:1 program to her school, and how the resources from Tech Goes Home could be used to offer digital literacy programs for families. She described to me how families in Boston were provided with 15 hours of training in local schools and community centers, and then were provided a netbook or tablet for just a $50 co-pay. The TGH team then helps them get online with Connect2Compete and using ISP’s such as FreedomPop, which offers 1GB of 4G LTE each month for most low income families for, yes, free. Also, there is 500 MB for those who do not live in low income census tracks.

Deb clearly has higher aspirations than just getting everyone online. Her goal is to provide a three-pronged approach to improving digital literacy. “There is training, hardware, and access,” she explains. “With all three we can anticipate more success [for families].”

For me, I am trying to figure out a way that I can work with local schools and other community partners to make use of the resources provided by Tech Goes Home for parents, students, and teachers. I encourage you to do the same, and to share your stories so we can figure out how to make training, hardware, and access available for as many families as possible. I’ve already sent an email to our local library’s technology program director and a community organization focusing on technology skill development for adults.

What’s your first step?

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New Resource on Tablets vs. Textbooks from ProCon.org

If you need a different debate for the Thanksgiving dinner table, here is a new issue posted on the always useful ProCon.org, which their president, Kamy Akhavan, shared with me earlier in the week from their press release:

Should Tablets Replace Textbooks in K-12 Schools?

ProCon.org Delves into High-Stakes Print vs. Digital Debate

Santa Monica, CA – As the cost of bulky textbooks continues to climb at double the rate of inflation, ever-slimmer digital tablets keep coming down in price. Now that 98% of America classrooms have access to the internet, increasing numbers of school districts are opting for the digital tablets.

But the transition from textbooks to tablets is controversial. Are the digital tablets too expensive for schools, too distracting for students, and too prone to problems for realistic adoption by K-12 schools? Or should the increasingly popular tablets replace print textbooks as an inevitable classroom tool of the future?

ProCon.org, a nonpartisan research organization devoted to critical thinking on controversial issues, debuts a brand new issue website Tablets vs. Textbooks (http://tablets-textbooks.procon.org) and delves into the pros and cons of whether tablets should replace textbooks in K-12 schools.

Definitely worth checking out as we come up to a holiday season when many, many children and teens around the country will be asking for mobile devices and more and more schools adopt BYOD policies.

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Information on the 21st Century Youth Project

After an email exchange with Antonio Rowry, a cofounder at 21st Century Youth Project, I felt it was appropriate to share the work of their organization here on my blog. They describe themselves as “an innovative after school initiative to do a small part to change education” and here is more straight from Antoinio:

The idea first came to us when we read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. To give a quick synopsis, one of our major takeaways from the book is that to become very successful, it’s a combination of several elements: perfect place, perfect timing, with the proper training. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell highlights the massive forces that combined to produce Bill Gates and Bill Joy. They had access to computers and equipment that enabled them to code far before most of the people their age. What does the 21st Century Youth Project entail:

  • Mobile App Development: We are using the Google Android platform where the students will each create their own unique app. The fun part about this is that they can create apps for their friends, family, schools, places of worship, or for the general community. We want to develop leaders, and we’re excited about the power of a student creating an app for their school, and receive recognition for the contribution in the same way as a school athlete.
  • SAT Training: We want to develop students for the next level, being college. Enabling them to slowly receive instruction, we hope to improve their scores so they can attend the school of their dreams. I’m particularly excited about the opportunity to give ACT/SAT math training to communities where paying $1,000 for a class isn’t an option. In many ways, your scores on standardized tests are directly linked to income levels and training, and we’re aiming to bridge that gap.
  • Business Planning: In addition to building an app, we want the students to understand the business implications and executions of their concepts. They will be formed into teams to discuss their business opportunities and create value for their customers.
  • Mentorship: The founder, Prof. Emile Cambry, Jr. is excited to give back because he was very fortunate to be a byproduct of many free educational programs that exposed him to business. Growing up, he thought he was going to be a doctor, but his mother always enlisted him in several programs to learn. It has led to his intellectual curiosity and more importantly; he realized business was his calling. He had attended the LEAD Program in Business and in many ways; the 21st Century Youth Project is based on their implementation. The students will be taking tours to college campuses, primarily those with strong computer or engineering departments, attending technology events in Chicago, and attend lectures taught by Chicago software developers.
  • Open-Source Educational Curriculum: We are slowly enabling, on an invite-only basis, an opportunity to create a dynamic curriculum to be used in the classroom.  This curriculum can be edited like Wikipedia and by keeping it open and dynamic, we hope to develop the best curriculum that isn’t based on state mandated codes, but instead, on what is best for the children. We will have topics in business, technology, finance, film, music, fashion, etc. We only care about providing instruction that the students respond to and learn the most.

After nine months of meetings, conference calls, presentations, and pitches to parents, students, faculty, and administrators, we are finally launching the 21st Century Youth Project. Our first day was February 12th, 2011, one of our MOST personally and professionally satisfying experiences. We’re documenting the progress of the pilot in hopes that we can gear up for a highly successful summer program.

Preparing for NWP/NCTE 2010

Photo courtesy of NCTE

Well, the week is here.

So, now that it is Monday of my biggest and busiest professional week of the year, I need to hit full stride.

NCTE and NWP 2010. Hooray!

NWP AM  2010
Image courtesy of NWP

Although I tell myself each year that I’ll cut back, do a little bit less, and just enjoyed my time at the convention, it seems a year after year I find more and more things to do. This year is no exception, and in reality I’m thankful for the many opportunities that these two organizations continue to offer me each fall as I network with my colleagues, present new ideas, and grow as a professional. In some ways it’s fitting that this happens right before Thanksgiving, because it does make me thankful for all the people with whom I am going to interact with in the next few days (although I will say that I’m usually exhausted by the end of it all!). So, as I am preparing for multiple sessions, I want to share some of my thinking, as well as the details on when and where I’ll be, during these busy days coming up.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Upon arriving in Orlando on Wednesday night, there really won’t be any time from the moment we get on board the Disney Express until we crash at our hotel. That means a bright start on Thursday morning as Sara and I make our way from the Yacht and Beach Club over to the Contemporary Resort for the NWP annual meeting. Right away, at 9:30 AM, I’m presenting with one of our CRWP co-directors Kathy Kurtze and two other NWP colleagues in a session called “Reading in the Summer Institute.” Goals for the session include inviting people into our thinking process about how, when, and why we choose particular texts, inviting participants to share their own texts that they use in the Summer Institute, and thinking more broadly about how we can respond to texts through a variety of professional types of writing and with various technologies. As with every NWP session that I have been a part of over the past seven years, this one provides new opportunities to think about what it means to teach teachers, and I’m excited to work with Rick, Ann, and Kathy to lead this session. In particular, I am really interested in hearing how other sites are engaging teachers and reading responses through the use of technologies such as digital stories, podcasts, discussion forums, and other types of read/write Web. After the session, we will ask people to contribute to a collaborative Google Doc where they can share their reading lists with one another. I look forward to seeing what will be happening with NWP’s new social network as well as the Digital Is collection of web-based resources.

After my morning session with NWP, I will have a little bit of time to hang out and talk with some other colleagues there. Before too long though, I’ll have to make my way back over to the Coronado, as Sara Kajder, Bud Hunt, and I are on tap to repeat our session from last year’s annual convention, Three Reports from Cyberspace. During the session last year, Sara was, unfortunately unable to join us. That said, her spirit still infused the interactive, multi-layered discussion while Bud and I led the room of about 200 teachers, as well as some online colleagues who couldn’t be at the convention. When are asked to present the session again, we jumped at the chance, and we think that there will be a whole new series of opportunities to open up conversations about how on why to use technology in our classrooms. In particular, Bud is going to talk about infrastructure, Sara is going to talk about assessment, and I’m going to talk about pedagogy. At that point, we’ll open up the floor as we did last year questions, comments, links, and insights from the audience. What we hope to do this year, even more so than what we did last, will be to continue the dialogue. We all began by collaboratively composing a welcome letter in a Google document, which we then each posted to our blog, the presentation wiki page, and the NCTE connected community. While many conference presentations comes and go, we hope to inspire an actual dialogue where our colleagues able to share their reports from cyberspace, and we might find stories, examples, and other types of data that will support the argument that digital learning matters.

Once we finish with the cyberspace reports, we will immediately run down the hall in the Coronado and present at NCTE’s middle level get-together. Sara will lead the way on this session, followed with lots of tech support and ideas from Bud and me. This is a wonderful honor for me, since being asked to be a featured speaker at NCTE is something that, quite honestly, I never really imagined. I remember attending my first and NCTE conference in Detroit in 1997, and I saw many of the people that I’ve been reading in my undergraduate methods courses, hearing about from other colleagues, and wondering if they were, in fact, real people. As an undergraduate, this experience opened my eyes, and now I know that those who are featured speakers at the NCTE annual convention really set the tone, pace, the conversations for our entire organization. So, working together to deliver the cyberspace reports and then moving to the middle level get-together is a wonderful opportunity for Sara, Bud, and I to set our own ideas in NCTE’s broader conversations related to literacy. One of the things that we want to make clear is that we are not using technology for technology’s sake, and that we want NCTE to continue taking a leadership role in promoting digital literacies in curriculum and instruction practices, as well as in decision-making about school infrastructure and assessment.

That rounds out a busy Thursday or sessions, followed that evening by a gathering of my CRWP colleagues to celebrate the second year of our writing project’s work and the fact that we are bringing ten site leaders to this year’s annual meeting. I look forward to hearing from them about their experiences at the annual meeting, many of them attending for the first time.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday morning brings us to my favorite part of the NWP annual meeting, the General Session, where the Executive Director  speaks, as well as the keynote speaker, other site directors, NWP teacher consultants, and various guests. It is, by far, one of the most exciting moments of the entire trip every year. We are bringing 10 CRWP teacher consultants with us this year, and I look forward to being at the session with them. Energy, excitement, enthusiasm that this two hour meeting generates propels the writing project forward through the doldrums of winter and into our planning for spring and summer months. So, needless to say, it’s something that I want to attend. Also because the rest of my time on Friday will find me at NCTE, it might be one of the few opportunities I have really connect with NWP colleagues, unless I can make it back for a tweet up later on.

Also on Friday, NCTE will be premiering its 100th anniversary film “Reading the Past, Writing the Future.” Two years ago was fortunate enough to be invited by John Golden to be interviewed for this film while in San Antonio. At the time, I was still working on my book, and didn’t really know what would be happening with my career in digital writing. Two books, a new writing project, three NCTE webinars, and too many PD sessions to count later, I’m kind of curious to see what I sounded like two years ago, and whether or not the things I said I’ll been reported in San Antonio still ring true. I’m told that they do, from those who have reviewed of the film, and I’m still honored to be a part of the many among many distinguished voices that will be heard in celebration of NCTE’s past, present, and future. One of the things that I enjoy most about NCTE is the fact that, as colleagues, I do feel comfortable roaming the hallways of the convention center, easily talking with my mentors and peers as well as those who are just now entering the profession. This dialogue that happens across generations of teachers happens in few other places, and I really enjoy the opportunity to be a part of it, and I hope that this film contributes to NCTE’s rich history and exciting future.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The NCTE adventure continues on Saturday, first with a “tech to go” session on writing with wikis, and then participating in the Google monsters session with Bill Bass, Andrea Zellner, Tara Seale, and Sara Beauchamp-Hicks.

Photo courtesy of Bud Hunt

First, Tech to Go. Sara Kajder has, over the past three years, invited a number of teachers to participate in NCTE’s just-in-time, nearly one-to-one personal development experience teaching English for technology: “Tech to Go.” While topics vary from video production, blogging, collaborative wordprocessing, using apps for the iPhone, the Tech to Go sessions have become a destination for many the past few years. In the three sessions that I have led, I’ve enjoyed the intimate conversations with colleagues, all who are able to ask genuine questions about why and how they might use particular technologies in their teaching. Moreover, I appreciate the opportunity to be standing there with the computer and be able to put their hands on the mouse and keyboard, rather than standing on the front of the giant lecture hall, unable to have an interaction, perhaps teaching them just one small thing that they can take back to their classrooms.  While we know that seeing these tools in action in front of a large audience is sometimes inspiring, I also know that many teachers benefit from the one-to-one support types of sessions offered. So I’m looking forward to being a part of to go again this year.

The other component of that day is the Google Monster presentation. Last year, Jeff Golub invited Sara, Bud, and I to do the reports fromcyberspace session. Attendees in that session included Bill Bass, Tara Seale, Andrea Zellner, and Sara Beauchamp-Hicks. We wondered if there was a way to do something with all of these teachers were already trained as Google certified teachers similar to the reports from cyberspace session. I suggested that we extend his reports from cyberspace model to a Google monster session, and they snapped up the opportunity and submited a proposal. So, here we are with kind of a cyberspace reports, part two, but Google style. Although my role in this session is technically listed as responder, I’m actually going to act as more of a moderator of as Bill, Andrea, Sara, and Tara offer their insights about how they use Google tools to solve their daily tasks and problems as educators. Like the cyberspace report session, this should be interactive and invite comments questions and interaction from the audience. It will be lightning fast, so there’ll be resources posted online for later. All in all, very excited about the opportunity to watch Sara present to a large audience, see her enthusiasm for teacher education and technology shine through along with Bill, Andrea, and Tara.

Saturday afternoon and Sunday bring a little bit of a break this year, at least in the sense that while we are wishing many of our colleagues safe travel home, we will have a little bit of downtime where we are actually able to attend some sessions and connect with other colleagues. Again, this is one of the most exciting parts about being at the convention. These sessions are always useful, as the one session that I went to last year on fair use has completely changed my thinking on why and how to invite students to use copyrighted materials and creating digital media. It’s amazing to think that one hour-long session really fundamentally change the way I go about teaching and writing. But this session has, and I’m thankful for opportunities such as this during the annual convention. What I normally say to myself when I jump on the plane is that if I can come back with one good, solid, thoughtful idea that I can integrate into my own teaching and writing, then I’ll be all that much better for. A usually come back with much more, but it’s my goal to seek out that one nugget, that one session that I know will provide me with some answers and movie forward to next year. I look forward to finding that session sometime on Saturday or Sunday.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Just as many people are heading home from the convention, I’m still warming up. On Monday I’ll actually be a part of two different workshops. First, I will be a part of the ACE workshop, hosted by Ewa McGrail, and presenting on the topic of using Zotero and and RSS for researching. I really do want to hone this presentation, and think more carefully about how I can talk to teachers in a future book, article, and/or presentation about fundamentally rethinking what it means to teach argumentative and informational writing at the secondary level. This stems in part from a blog post I wrote last year about rethinking the research process. Given the requirements of the common core standards, not to mention standardized assessments by which we are measured, and our students are measured, I really do want teachers to think more critically and carefully about how digital writing tools such as a bibliography manager, an RSS reader, social bookmarking, and any number of other interactive, web-based digital writing tools may help students become more active, engaged, and the research process. Also, given the many commercially licensed products that are out there nowadays, I want teachers to see that they really can organize their research process with free web-based and open source tools. So, I look forward to constructing a hour-long workshop and getting feedback from peers.

Later in the morning, I leave ACE and  head over to the CEE colloquium: “Multicultural, Multiliterate: Writing the World.”  Kristen Turner and Jonathan Bush invited me to be a featured speaker during this year’s session, sponsored by the commission on writing teacher education. They wanted to focus on the multigenre approaches as well as multimodal technologies. Featuring, Tom Romano and Christina Ortmeier-Hooper in the morning, I’m fortunate enough to be speaking about multimodal composition in the late morning. One of the unique challenges of presenting at the NCTE annual convention this year will be the fact that there is limited or no wifi connectivity, and this day is no exception. For many years now, there are a number of us who have lamented the fact that these conventions do not have free, open, and adequate wifi access. If we really wanted to our colleagues to move forward with digital writing, this is an absolute essential. At any rate, that means that my session will focus on mobile learning, and that is a cool new area for me to explore and present on.

That said, the goal for the afternoon will be to move to EPCOT center to both capture and critique the ways in which we see cultures presented there. So, a large degree what we’ll be doing later in the day will involve mobile devices, so that’s where I’m focusing my attention during my presentation. I want to get people thinking about how and why they might choose audio recordings, video recordings, snapshots, twitter messages, and other forms of digital writing that can happen on their mobile devices and across networked spaces in order to both capture their reflections in the moment and prepare to make a digital composition later on. I will probably invite them to use Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and Cinch. Other tools are, of course, welcome! One of the goals that they have for the moment in terms of simply capturing digital assets is that they can go back to their computer later create into a digital story, wiki, or other type of digital writing media. We want people to be comfortable using their mobile devices to stay connected both with their small groups, across the entire CEE group, and in preparation for preparing pieces of multi-genre pieces of digital writing. We are following up this colloquium with the webinar December, the time and date still yet to be set, as an opportunity to read/view/listen to one another’s texts and respond to them.

http://www.cinchcast.com/cinchplayerext.swf

Since we will be in EPCOT Center Monday afternoon, my hope is that Sara and I will be able to enjoy one last dinner alone, or perhaps with a small group of colleagues, before we hit the road on Tuesday. She will be heading back to the UP while I stay in Florida to visit with my dad. This is one of the bittersweet parts about  NCTE; once you convene with all your friends and colleagues for many days, everyone heads home for Thanksgiving, exhausted, yet refreshed at the same time. I get tired just looking at my schedule is coming week, yet at the same time I am genuinely excited about the opportunities that continue to be presented to me. My hope is that my message across all the sessions remains consistent: if we engage students as writers, and we offer writing tasks and technologies that are both timely and useful, we as teachers will be able to open up our pedagogy, expect more from them as writers, and begin to see their worlds and different ways.

I look forward to continuing conversations with many of you face-to-face next week in Orlando.

Travel safe, my friends.

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